In a recent Humu questionnaire, every single Fortune 500 executive we surveyed told us they plan to adopt a hybrid model. As leaders, managers, and teams begin to navigate the transition to hybrid work, the question on everyone’s mind is: What’s the ideal number of work-from-home (WFH) days per week?
According to one of our proprietary studies, a magic number may exist: between one and two WFH days per week, with the rest in the office. It’s worth noting that our research was conducted pre-COVID, and that norms have changed drastically over the past 18 months. But our findings still provide valuable insight into what type of hybrid setup might be optimal for teams going forward.
Pre-pandemic, one of our Fortune 500 customers rolled out a WFH policy to some of their call center employees. Their leadership team then asked our People Scientists to determine whether or not the policy should be extended to the entire department. In other words, leadership wanted to know: How does the ability to work from home impact employee satisfaction and productivity?
Working from home improves productivity — up to a point
Our team compared the call center employees who could work from home with statistically similar groups of people who worked in the office 100% of the time. We paired quantitative success metrics like productivity (the amount of work completed per day) and efficiency (the amount of time spent on-task per day) with employees’ self-reported job satisfaction, and then compared individual employees’ performance on WFH days to their performance on days that they worked with their colleagues in the call center.
After analyzing over a year’s worth of data, our results showed that when the norm was to work in-office full-time, the ability to work from home 1-2 days per week led to the highest levels of performance. After that (i.e. when employees worked 3 or more days from home), performance first plateaued and then started to decline.
Employees get more done on days when they work remotely
We also found that employees were 1.8 to 2.5 percentage points more productive on the days when they worked remotely. This makes sense: When you’re free of distractions and able to focus on your work, you’re much more likely to breeze through your to-dos.
Interestingly, it didn’t seem to matter what day of the week they worked from home, challenging the common assumption that Friday WFH days are less productive than other days of the week. It also didn't matter whether their work-from-home day fell just before or after a holiday like Thanksgiving or Labor Day (in the US).
Working from home a few days a week also seemed to make people more productive when they were back in the office. That’s likely because WFH-eligible employees could flex their schedules to complete focus-friendly tasks at home, leaving space for more collaborative tasks during face-to-face office time.
“Offering employees a few work-from-home days creates a shift, where office time is for collaborative work, for innovative work, for having meetings, and home time is for focused work.” - Dr. Stefanie Tignor, Humu’s Director of Data and Analytics.
Flexibility is the future
But productivity isn't everything: what about employee satisfaction? WFH had a positive effect there, too: People who could work remotely were much happier than their in-office colleagues. The self-reported happiness scores of call center workers who stayed home a few days a week increased by 2% over the 13-month study period compared to people who didn’t work from home at all.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise given how many people are eager to keep the autonomy over their own schedules that they gained during the pandemic. In fact, 59% of middle-income workers reported that remote flexibility would be a major factor in deciding to leave their current job or stay put. In 2021, WFH options are a key benefit to attract and retain top talent.
To make working from home work, leaders should emphasize flexibility above all. Not everyone can do their job from home to begin with, and some roles benefit more from face-to-face time than others. But the data show that there’s a statistically significant sweet spot. If you’re experimenting with WFH policies at your company, one to two days a week could be the perfect place to start.
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